Microwaves and microplastics: what are the dangers of common practice?

Microwave ovens have become an integral part of the modern kitchen. They’re time-saving, convenient and efficient. But a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology may make you think twice before heating food in a plastic container.

What does the research say?

In experiments, scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the US found that heating plastic containers in a microwave oven can release billions of nanometre-sized microplastic particles into food. The researchers focused on baby food containers made of polypropylene and polyethylene, which are generally considered safe.

Microwaves and microplastics: what are the dangers of common practice?
Photo from martindawes.com

By heating various liquids for three minutes in a 1000W microwave oven, the scientists found that on average 4.22 million microplastic particles and a staggering 2.11 billion nanoplastic particles were released into the liquid from each square centimetre of plastic surface. These numbers are so large that it is difficult to imagine their scale.

It has been found that the greatest number of micro- and nanoparticles are released when water or dairy products are heated. But even when the food or drink was chilled or simply stored in containers at room temperature, particles were still released, albeit in smaller quantities.

Why does this matter?

The jury is still out on how harmful microplastics are to our bodies. While some studies suggest possible damage to the gut and metabolism, definitive conclusions have yet to be drawn. However, the fact that such a large amount of plastic particles are ending up in the food we eat deserves our attention.

While scientists continue to study the effects of microplastics on the human body, it may be worth rethinking your habits and avoiding microwaving food in plastic containers. Glass or ceramic containers may be a safer choice, at least until there is definitive data on the effects of microplastics on our health.

Prepared by Mary Clair

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